Chapter 1: Taken
The deck of the Argo II gleamed in the setting sun. Their return trip from defeating Gaea lazy. Not quite a holiday though, no, not after all the Greek and Roman loses; but the crew plus Nico were intact.
Thank gods, Percy thought. He needed to make a proper sacrifice to Hestia, all the gods, really. Something he cherished, not some throw-away item. When he had the opportunity, that was. He mustn't forget. (Forgetting was bad. And payback was a...you know).
Jason and Piper on the bow spoke quietly. Their couples' murmurs reaching his sea-ears. Leo fiddled in the cockpit (as per usual), Annabeth looked wistful astern; the earliest stars bright against a darkening sky. (They'd split up right after the final battle--ouch!--Percy wasn't sure why, something about Pre-med? Or maybe PMS? Heh, what happened to buttresses? He didn't want to question her too closely, though, and actually felt a bit relieved). Frank and Hazel were somewhere below. Maybe in the Pegasus bay (someone should get to use it). Nico manned the foremast.
But Percy felt tense. It's not that things were too calm. No. That wasn't it. He walked over to the side; rubbing his head. It ached. All day. And that, he realized, was a problem. He didn't get headaches this close to the ocean. Any water, really.
No. Something was amiss.
He squinted in the moonlight, wishing Blackjack were near. A fly-over by Pegasus would be ideal. But it was impossible. And no, he was not going to ask Jason to carry him. Blergh. Ugh. No thanks. Just. Not cool.
He could call his Pegasus to him, even from here. They were linked by more than distance. And that, Percy mused, was also a problem. No matter where Percy was, Blackjack would come when called, and disregard any danger. Even if he called from half-way around the world with a stupid request. Percy instantly blocked these thoughts in order to protect the animal from just such an occurrence. Years trying to keep Blackjack from reading his mind when the horse (er, sorry boy, Pegasus) was being nosy were good training, for now he erected his usual mental wall without too much effort. The same technique worked on any being in his father's domain. Whether it was Tyson getting nosy about Annabeth when he visited him at his dad’s place, or some lovable (but slow-witted, shhhh) hippocampi, it was better to keep most thoughts to himself. Definitely best to avoid loud thinking around Triton and Amphitrite. (Don’t go there). This was how he'd seen into Annabeth's vision brought on by the Sirens way back in the Sea of Monsters’ days. He just hadn't realized at the time that seeing the mental images in Annabeth’s mind was no different from talking to Tyson under the water. He rather thought Annabeth had eventually figured it out. But she never said. It did become harder to read her, later. Another thing he hadn’t realized until recently but that was quite surprising; anyone with him underwater could also breathe, the portable air-bubbles quite unnecessary. The thing that wasn’t surprising was that no one figured it out. Even he hadn’t known he could breathe underwater until after he discovered he was a half-blood. After all, most people avoided sucking water into their lungs. Why try?
He sighed and rubbed his temples. This was ridiculous. His head hurt worse than before. Maybe he was getting sick. Was it possible for a Son of Poseidon to get Sea Sickness? He let out a breath and shook his head. No. No more than it was possible to drown. And he was still afraid of drowning. Stupid. But there you are; he was stupid. The headache couldn’t be real. Everything that had happened (the war, Annabeth, Tartarus) was making him feel a little 'off.'
That was all.
A light giggle, coupled with some not-so-light footsteps, brought him out of himself. Hazel and Frank, come to relieve the watch. So he could sleep. And Nico, Jason, and Piper too. But they might not; it was so pleasant on deck. (Especially not Nico, he never did). Percy glanced up at the mast, trying to see the black-clothed figure against the darkened sky. Right. Nico didn't want to be seen. Or heard. Or bothered.
Then why do I keep bothering him?
Percy shrugged just as Frank and Hazel approached.
“Why so glum, Perce?” Frank asked.
“Oh, what? Nothing. Just thinking.”
“Don’t do too much of that Percy.” Hazed said softly. “Annabeth just,...needs some time. I think.” Her eyes looked sympathetic.
Percy cocked his head and drew in his eyebrows. Thrown for a moment.
“Right. Yeah, you might be right but...” He shrugged again and smiled. Let everyone think what they wanted. Annabeth wasn’t his main concern. Not at the moment. Maybe not ever again. (Not that he didn't care about her). He didn’t know what his main concern should be, other than this headache. But it wasn’t her.
“I just...” He made a motion below decks, and Frank and Hazel let him be, going into couple/commando mode as he departed, where they managed some innocent (by modern-day standards) fondling while still able to wield deadly weapons.
Sexy. Percy thought. But he kept it to himself. Anything having to do with Hazel definitely fell under Nico’s night/day/infra-red vision scope. And say what you will about the Son of Hades, no one messed with his sister. Or sisters, for that matter. Percy could imagine him going after anyone who threatened Bianca in her new life. If he ever figured out her identity.
The bright sunlight streamed into his cabin’s porthole, hurting his eyes, and making his increasing headache throb.
Groggily, he pushed himself out of bed, (he hadn’t slept well) and retrieved the same clothes he’d worn on watch the night before, not bothering to shower. Though maybe he should go for a swim.
Saltwater might cure this pain. Right?
He stumbled to the galley, ignoring the rest of the crew as he drank some orange juice, and slumped at the table with his head in his hands.
“Someone party last night?” He looked up to see Jason grin at him, but then the guy squinted once he got a look at his red (and sea green, aaaaahhh!!!!!!) eyes.
“You really don’t look so good this morning. You okay? We got plenty ambrosia left. Nico!” The boy, who had just come in the galley jumped a little, but Percy held out his hand.
“Don’t waste it, Jay. It’s just a headache. Like you said, not much different from a hangover. Sure I’ll be okay.”
“All right, then, if you think so.” Jason patted his shoulder. “If you need anything. Just...you know.”
Percy waved him away and lurched up. He had to get above deck. Nico, he realized, was already gone.
A piercing wave; a realization of every part of that ship, hit him. An internal screech of timbers and ocean and every life within. Maybe because he’d been content to let Leo pilot, he hadn’t paid proper attention to the signs. That really should have been his job, but hey, it was Leo’s boat, Leo built it. Leo had the right to call the orders as far as Percy was concerned. But it was still a boat, and he had only to use his will to take over any time it was necessary. And now. The ship was talking to him. Calling him.
He ran. Sprinted. Something. Some One! Was in danger.
And Percy knew Nico was gone. Gone but not far, the water had taken.
And Poseidon’s only living son called the ocean; launched himself.
Launched after the Son of Hades.
His senses reached. Oxygen, hydrogen, the detritus of sea creatures. Sinking.
How long he traveled, he didn’t know. The water propelling both captive and sea-son. He needed to catch him before the Son of the Underworld became a permanent, non-breathing resident.
“Come on, faster!” the demi-god growled at the water. He sent his thoughts into the ocean’s floor. To the volcanic mountains that formed the conveyer belt of oceanic activity that controlled the currents. He needed more speed.
“Come on. Dad! Please!!” He felt heat. And increased movement. And sent a silent thank you to his father, but didn’t lose focus. He saw everything. Sand. Plankton. Amoeba. Sharks. And--
He saw Nico, being carried by a creature that didn’t respond to his calls.
“Not one of ours,” Percy mumbled in sea-speak.
He knew what this meant. Oceanus. Not full risen, or powerful, even. Nope. Powerful ocean gods didn’t sea-nap lone sailors from lazy ships. This was random spite against Poseidon, on behalf of Oceanus.
“Not happening, sucker.”
He didn’t bother with Riptide. This creature was no match for him. With a final push, he slammed into the pair (creature holding scarily water-logged Nico) wrapped his arms around the boy from behind, and held tight. As he suspected, the non-Poseidon-friendly creature vanished.
Percy slowed. Listening to Nico’s system. Blood moved. His heart beat. Excellent.
Water saturated his lungs.
He waited. Closed his eyes. Nico took a sudden gulp of water through his mouth and nose, and he exhaled air bubbles. Percy held tighter, dropped his head forward alongside the boy’s, his chin on Nico’s shoulder, and breathed in and out a few times, letting the water clear his lungs, and allowed Nico time to get adjusted. So this was the reason for his unease. He was pretty freaked out, though. Nico could have died because he’d been too slow to recognize the danger. He kept one arm around Nico’s chest, (still from behind) but moved the other so he clasped the boy's wrist. Loosening but keeping a firm hold. Nico needed to stay with him. Nico turned his head and upper body until his wide eyes looked into Percy’s, and Percy felt Nico’s free hand grip the arm held over his chest. Percy hugged back and gave a quick nod, and was just about to speak, in other words to allow Nico to read his mind, when he was hit with an onslaught of images. And feelings:
Ocean. Fear. Bright open sky. The Argo. Skeletons. Bianca and Hazel. Misty countryside. Old cars and planes from a different era. Nico fighting. A stygian sword and learning how to use it. Trained by Hades. More images. Faster still: Percy fighting. Percy swinging a sword. Percy laughing. Eyes crinkling. Walking. Running. Speaking. Throwing his arms around Nico and Nico--running. Then a man with wings, no, a god. Death? Percy had met him once, but this one was different. Meaner. Eyes blood red and demanding. Shooting at Nico and at Jason. War arrows. Jason defending but Nico taking a hit in the arm. And anger. So much anger. But underneath--none. Relief. And love. So much love and Percy felt it all course through Nico as he held him in place under the sea. Shaking with shared feelings. Mind still blocked from Nico. Percy looked harder into Nico’s eyes, but then closed his own, and felt the rest of his emotions until they equalized. Every thought Nico experienced at that moment suddenly controlled, though still open and unaware to Percy's vision. He even tried to pull back physically. But Percy gave a quick shake to his head, and, facing him fully, laid one hand gently against Nico’s neck. Let his face tilt forward just a little. Not too close. Allowed Nico a glimpse into his own feelings.
Percy paused for a moment, then broke mental contact. He'd invaded Nico enough.
Their return to the Argo II was easy. They passed typical sea-life (skates, skanks, leather-back turtles), and not-so-typical naked Nereids playing Twister on the sea floor. (How’d he miss that on the way out!?). A young Merman armed with a length of twisted sea-weed saluted them smartly. The going was much slower with Nico, whose body couldn’t withstand the deeper pressure for long, or the extreme speeds. (Not that the creature who’d taken him had been concerned. Still, better to be cautious).
Percy saw the outline of the ship’s hull, too far away for any non-sea creature to detect, but he pointed in its general direction for Nico’s sake, who nodded and appeared to appreciate the sentiment. 15 minutes later, Percy summoned a gentle wave to take them directly to the ship’s deck. The morning quite cold, so Percy made sure both dried instantly.
Nico coughed. Breathed air.
“Well.” He started.
Jason and the rest mobbed them.
“Whoa, there. Hey Perce, you got him...” Jason tried to crowd in. Percy suddenly looked at Zeus’s kid closely. What had he been doing with Nico and the winged dude? That, he didn’t know.
Percy held on. Staring at Nico. The rest though. The rest he got.
“You can let go, now.” Nico was trying, unsuccessfully, to shake him loose. To pull back. And it looked like Jason was going to help.
Percy threw his arms tighter around him. Leaned in, and whispered.
“No. Never again.”
Chapter 2: Dreaming
Nico has dreams. And Percy sees too much.
Nico gasped, awakening. Visceral images left a raw, sick feeling in his gut. Hands clenched; tears streamed his face. Impressions of wood paneled rooms, anger, women and men in black clothing filled him. Remembered shame; pain from wooden sticks across his hands. His shoulders. Then blurred reality and a loud pounding made the memory of the dream recede. The room unfamiliar. The beamed ceiling of Coach Hedge's cabin too close. He sat up, fast. Someone was pounding on the door. He took several quick breaths. That dream, he'd had it before. Maybe. It wasn't a regular demigod dream. He wasn't sure, though…
The door to Coach Hedge's (now Nico's) cabin opened, and Percy approached the bed carefully. Nico glimpsed his face before hiding his own. He covered his eyes with the heels of his hands and flung himself backwards.
"Go away, Perseus. Can't a person sleep?"
Nico felt the mattress give as Percy sat.
Nico set-up his classic 'go away I'm a bad-ass child of Hades' glare before removing his hands from his face, and fixed that look on Percy. Who just.
Looked at him.
Nico groaned inside. So much for that. Somehow, all his previous strategies for putting off the Son of Poseidon, for protecting himself from potential…issues, had stopped working. He flung onto his side, faced away from those intent eyes.
Since when is Percy this persistent? It used to be easy. But he knew when. Yes. Percy, backed by Jason, the fink, had given an ultimatum.
"You were dreaming?" Percy asked.
"Wha? What?" Nico turned toward him. "How did you? Was I…." Nico paused, dreading the answer. Then hid his face once again. If he'd cried aloud in his sleep…no. He couldn't be that bad. Right?
He felt a hand on his shoulder. Caressing. The touch was meant to sooth, but managed to send a jolt through him anyway. He felt an answer in his groin, and had to concentrate for a moment to make it go away. Great. Horny and upset. He knew Percy couldn't see, but still. He exhaled. He spent half his time around Percy trying to control that. A squeeze to his arm made him freeze. He wished he didn't have to send the guy away. Wished he could take that hand in his own. He felt vulnerable and scared from the dream. His throat scratched and his eyes burned. But no. This wouldn't do. Percy, of all people, shouldn't see him upset. Or so...needy. No.
"Nico, look at me."
Nico sighed and turned toward him. Arms crossed over his chest under the blanket. He fixed a scowl on his face.
"I don't need anything. I'm fine. Just please--."
"I don't believe you. I told you, that's not going to work anymore." Percy paused, looking away with his eyes furrowed like he was thinking. Debating. His feet and hands jiggled.
Then he returned his attention to Nico. His expression determined.
"What do you remember from being underwater?"
Nico's breath hitched. And his eyes widened and fixed on Percy. He did remember something. Mostly the swim back to the ship. But there was a moment after Percy first grabbed him, when he'd gotten the distinct impression that Percy liked him in a way Nico didn't quite believe. Or at least wouldn't despise him. And it was that insight that allowed every interaction since. Kept him from shadow traveling. Even made him give in to the demand that he stop hanging out on the ship's masts and use Hedge's unoccupied room. (Which smelled distinctly of stale lanolin. Ugh). He was even eating more. (Percy and Jason nagged! Annoying). It was just a feeling, but Nico's overwhelming shame when he was around Percy had started to lessen. Just a little.
Shame. The dream. Screaming nuns; beaten…
Percy frowned. "What's that?"
Nico didn't answer. Shook his head and turned away from Percy once again. Nico heard a sigh.
"Come on, Nico. Breakfast." The tone was gentle. Which aggravated him. Somehow, it seemed wrong. Percy should be impatient after that.
"If you're not out in 5 minutes, I'm carrying you." So much for the gentle tone.
"I just ate!"
"Yesterday you ate. Want breakfast here?"
Nico pictured that. Probably Percy, Jason, Hazel (with Frank following like a puppy, maybe even transformed into a puppy) would bring food to his room and force-feed him if he didn't move.
Chapter 3: Awake
So here is Percy's take. Things are getting…confused.
Percy leaned against the forward bow rail. Reflecting. Something he wasn’t used to doing so much of. Well, not before acting, anyway. He did think a lot after-the-fact. Usually after he screwed something up. Or made a stupid comment to someone. The way his mind worked mimicked his fighting style. Or the ocean. Instinctive. Rash. Devastating.
But now? Seeing into another person’s mind, okay, Nico’s mind in particular, made him think. He’d felt more, so much more than when this happened with other people. Even those who were unaware, and failed to block him. (Hey, he was a water guy, getting dumped in the ocean happened. A lot).
Were his powers still growing? (Yeah, they were). But was that the reason for this increased connection to Nico? Hmm. No. He didn’t think so. (More thinking! Stop it Percy!). Then…maybe it was just Nico’s mind. It reminded him a bit of Annabeth’s, but more passionate. Vulnerable. Beautiful.
All right. No. Leaning on a boat rail gazing out over the ocean while thinking about how beautiful and vulnerable another guy’s mind is, just…knock it off. Right. Now.
At least it wasn't sunset.
Percy straightened. He hadn’t ever been able to detect another person’s thoughts or feeling after leaving the water. It was almost like…he groaned and put his head to his hands. That was it. The empathy thing. It reminded him of his empathy link with Grover. But more…physical. More there. He’d felt Nico’s distressed dream that morning. And couldn’t leave him to suffer. Even caught some flashes from his thoughts, though not enough to understand. It was kind of like the flow of water he’d suddenly been able to follow through everyone's bodies since Tartarus. (Read blood. Interstitial fluids. Cell function. Weird. Freaky. Frightening).
But since Nico's water rescue, these sensations increased (just with him, though). He could sense the boy when he was in other rooms through his pulse. Not even Annabeth….Maybe it was because he was also a child of the ‘Big Three?’ That, with the increased awareness of being underwater…. Again. Possible?
Percy didn’t believe it. Not really.
He'd noticed Nico's desire, earlier, too. But maybe it was only his imagination. It had been so brief. (Either that or just morning wood, nothing to do with Percy. Huh). He felt disappointment and sadness twist his chest (and lower) at this thought. But shook his head (focus, big guy!) then rolled his eyes at his own stupidity. Really. That wasn't vain. Right?
Where was I? Nico. Flashes of desire. What?
He clenched his fists and winced. Yeah. Focus.
The question was; why? He’d understood Nico’s feelings when they were underwater. But not his own except that he cared for the kid. He didn’t treat him the way he did other people. There was a level of concern there. Of course, Nico needed concern. Right? He was so alone. So—.
Percy pictured Nico, and gripped the railing. Hard.
It wasn’t just Nico’s mind that was beautiful.
"What can you tell me about a god with wings? Oh, and red eyes?"
Percy waited. Jason gaped at him. They were on watch together. Night watch. Again. Alone but for Leo steering. (Someone needed to reduce that guy's caffeine intake).
"Not exactly." Percy couldn't lie. But things were escalating. It was important. He knew it.
"If he didn't say anything, then I can't. But how do you even know?"
“Just tell me.”
Jason sighed. But looked down and kept his mouth shut.
Percy took a deep breath. Wondering how much he should say. Then decided.
"He was shot. With an arrow. And you tried to protect him.”
Jason looked shocked.
Percy waited. He did a lot of that. Lately.
“Cupid.” Jason replied after a long silence. “It, it was Cupid.” Then his eyes closed in apparent pain. He hunched in on himself, dropped his head. “Nico’s going to kill me. I promised; I…hope he doesn’t hate me.”
Percy stared. Recalling everything he ever heard about the love god. “Cupid," he repeated, feeling brittle. "So then; he loves you?"
Jason laughed. “Hardly. Well, I don’t think so, we’re friends.” Jason studied Percy. Hesitant. “You know the deal with Cupid’s arrows?”
Percy shrugged. “Only that you’re supposed to fall in love with the first person you see, and you were there.”
“There’s more.” Jason began. “Cupid has more than one kind.”
Percy looked perplexed.
“More than one type of arrow. A gold tipped arrow makes the person who is shot fall in love with, whoever--that can get ugly--and the lead ones kill unrequited love.”
"How do you know this?"
Jason raised his eyebrows with a little grin.
"Oh, right. Dating Aphrodite. Er, her daughter," he corrected when Jason looked horrified. “So…”
“If Cupid's target still loves…the person… after being shot with lead, then that means it wasn’t unrequited.” Percy cocked his head; bemused.
"If Nico is still in love with that same ‘person,’ then that person loved him all along. Unless it was a gold arrow that hit him, but...I don't think he sees me that way."
Percy felt his face heat. He was glad their watch was at night where it was hard to see, and Nico was asleep. (Yeah, and you know he's asleep because you feel it, Percy. Oh. Gods.).
"You…asked Piper this?"
Jason shrugged. "I didn't really see any change in him after getting shot. Seemed odd. Oh!” He added, “but I didn’t tell her anything, just asked when something related came up. Still, it’s possible she knows because she, well…”
"Uh, okay." Percy frowned. "So...when was this discussion?"
Jason stood. Abrupt.
“We really need to make a tour. Just in case. I'll take below deck?”
Percy glared at his cousin.
"Yeah. You do that. "
Chapter 4: The fog lifts
Hazel and Piper huddled on a deck bench together with Leo nearby, all drowsing. Percy and Nico stood, their attention on the water. Nico just a little farther than he needed to be from Percy, but he watched the Son of Poseidon with covert glances. The rest of the crew were on duty. The morning sun absent, an eerie fog in its place. And shadows. Not enveloping the ship, but ahead. Wisped tendrils clung to rock-steep shores and threatening water. It wasn’t all fog, though, Nico knew. Spirits intermingled. Much of the vapor came from them.
“Where are we?” He asked.
“54 degrees north, 5 degrees west…approximately,” replied Percy instantly.
Everyone but Nico groaned, who just looked exasperated.
“Okay…English? No, wait. Latin would be easier to understand that that.
Percy laughed. His eyes lifted and creased at the corners. He gave Nico a full grin, who involuntarily mirrored Percy’s happiness until he checked himself. Why did every stupid little thing Percy did captivate him so? And it was getting worse.
He thought about Percy more now than before being shot by the meddlesome love god. He looked at the deck and waited for the emotion to pass. When he recovered, he raised his eyes again; the demi-god stared at him with a thoughtful expression on his face.
Percy thoughtful. Not good.
Percy cleared his throat. “We’re about 20 miles from Belfast. On the Antrim coast in Northern Ireland.
The ship drew close to the shore when a castle on a barren rock island suddenly loomed from the mist. Captured them between two landmasses. Nico panicked, but felt the boat shift; a crash avoided. It happened fast. He let out a relieved gasp. Wondered if Percy had anything to do with it. Nico studied him closely, but Percy just looked like he always did while standing on a ship. (Calm. In charge. Happy. Freaking gorgeous--argh!).
Percy signaled to Frank in the cockpit to get his attention.
“Maybe just up here?” He pointed to the cove beyond the castle rock.
Nico drew in a frozen breath; then bounded forward, flinging his arm across Percy’s chest as he drew up alongside. The spirits had suddenly increased, and started to agitate.
“No! Percy. Not this place. We can’t…!” Nico gestured wildly.
“Hey! Why not? Ghost Boy?” Leo spoke up. “We need to stop, Belfast is too large, and you know we don’t have enough supplies to get all the way home, even leaving this far north—.”
“You got the ‘ghost’ part right anyway.” Nico replied, his expression humorless, though with a tight grin, “see all that white stuff? That’s not fog.” He turned to the others. Piper and Hazel started at his words. Their eyes round. Nico continued, and focused on his sister. It was always easier for him to talk to girls than guys. Girls were just, themselves. Family. They didn’t make him feel, wrong. “Those are ghosts. And they don’t look happy. Not a good idea.”
“Right.” Percy interjected before Leo could say more. “We need to follow Nico on this.” He looked at the teen and raised his brows. “What do you think? Keep going to Belfast, then? Maybe we could dock outside the city and walk?”
“I guess. I’m not….” Nico gestured as he spoke, and kept moving his hands after he finished.” I mean I’m not used to saying where…”
“You’ll do fine. I would’ve taken us right in the middle of that mess. So, we continue?”
Nico nodded. Feeling better.
Percy moved closer.
Just a little.
They’d found a hamlet just outside the city proper, docked, and sent an expedition to replace certain items. Mostly food. Percy insisted the Ghost King lead. And Nico wanted Frank along for a third. (Jason was passed out now they’d landed. But Frank got along with his girlfriend’s brother, so no problem).
Not only was it safer with Nico there to interceed with any ghost troubles, (Ireland was known for being haunted), but it made Nico think Percy might finally trust him. And he didn’t like traveling on water any better than he did the air. It was a relief to be on rock and earth.
My place. My element.
“We still need more ambrosia. Any ideas?” Percy asked. All three wore deceptively small backpacks. They were a new design from Leo, based on his toolbelt, but you had to actually put something into the pack before you took it out again. All three were loaded with food, bandages, and, strangely, hairspray. (Nico didn't want to ask).
“Maybe,…” Frank spoke up.
Percy and Nico stopped, and followed Frank’s gaze. An old (were there any other kind in Ireland?) church flickered. One moment abandoned ruins. The next, an ancient, though standing, cloister.
“Mist.” Percy nodded. “Good job, Frank. Hard to spot between the fog and ghosts.” Frank responded with a pleased smile and ducked head. “You agree, Nico?”
“Yeees.” Nico replied. He felt uneasy. His heart rate accelerated. And he sweated, though it was cold outside. He was sure he’d never been here. But the building made him nervous. He rubbed his chest.
Percy frowned. “You okay, buddy?”
“Huh? Of course. Let’s go.” Nico moved to hurry, to get rid of that feeling.
“No, wait.” Percy moved close and placed his hand gently on his shoulder. Nico closed his eyes. Breathed. Sensed the demi-god tower over him. It felt good. “Is there a problem with that place? Ghosts? Something else in there?”
Nico shook his head more than necessary, and took Percy’s fingers in his own. Percy looked surprised, but didn’t move his hand.
“Nothing. It, just reminds me of something. I think. Come on.” His sense of foreboding increased. But the place felt natural, so he couldn’t say why.
Percy looked at Frank, who shrugged.
“They may have what we need. Got any more drachma? We should at least offer.”
Nico let out a hissing 'tsss' sound.
“I’ve never heard of a priest who turned down ‘offerings.’ Especially not gold.” His eyes were hard.
Percy and Frank got quiet. But followed. Percy stayed just on Nico’s heel, so that he bumped into him every once in awhile. Nico thought he should say something. But he didn’t.
They entered the church. Nico knelt. Then stood up quickly. What was that? I’m a demi-god, for Hades sake! I pray to my father. I don’t kneel. Why…? The other two waited.
Nico wrapped his arms around his chest. His breathing was too fast; he tried to still it, kept his gaze down. His long hair fell into his eyes. Sweat ran into them. Hot. Too hot.
“Figli?” A voice quavered.
Nico straightened. A dark figure in darker robes approached softly. Figli. Children. How did an Irish priest speak Italian, and know that one in the group would understand? Nico drew his sword. Percy and Frank did the same a moment later.
"Chi siete voi?" Nico demanded. Though he wondered why he used the more formal voi to over tu while pointing a stygian sword that the creature. Voi far more polite. Though less familiar. The being looked like a regular man, a priest. But they all knew how that went.
“You can put those down, demi-gods. I’m one of you.” The man came closer, his English accented in Italian. He was quite old. Nico lowered his sword, but not much.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the priest here, young man. I’m a son of Nemesis. We must all seek balance where we can find it.”
Nico put up his sword. If he were attacked, he could just open the ground and send the guy to meet his father.
Nico felt Percy put a hand on his arm, and went rigid. His mind filled. Memories. From when, he didn’t know. The heat and nerves he’d experienced gone. Cold. He heard shouts in his mind. Cries. And remembered a boy at his side. Small. Blond. Covered in blood. Dark figures in darker robes surrounded them.
Nico gasped and and yanked his arm away, propelled himself from Percy.
“Boys’ don’t touch like that!”
Nico stumbled. Until only the wall and Percy’s arms kept him from falling.
“Eat this. Please.”
Nico’s hand curled around a piece of ambrosia without seeing, he nibbled, and tasted Christmas eel and ricotta cheese cookies. His mother’s.
His eyes snapped into focus to see Percy’s concerned looking green ones inches from his own.
Nico felt better. Physically. The room they were in much smaller than the one before. A nice place to sit. Empty but for the two of them. Nico supposed Frank and the priest were somewhere else in the church.
“That’s why we left.”
Percy’s brows creased, and Nico continued. Shaking his head.
“I finally get a real memory from before. Before Lethe.” Nico spoke quietly. “And it’s that.” Nico clenched his jaw and balled his fists. “My mother. She didn’t want me to stay there. After.” Nico’s voice shook. “Dad, he brought us to America. It wasn’t much later. The hotel. Zeus.” Nico suddenly buried his head in Percy’s shoulder. He couldn’t stand to look at his face.
“All my fault.” Nico whispered. “That, little kid, he was my friend. We...liked each other. I think. He almost died they hit him so hard. They hit me too, but not like that. Then we left and I never found out what happened to him. Then my mom died. Bianca. Dead. Gone. My fault.”
“What?! No! How can any of that be your fault? You didn’t hurt anyone. You were a kid, for gods’ sake. What are you talking about?” Percy had tears in his eyes. But not Nico.
Nico raised his head and looked into Percy’s face. Percy’s open expression made him wince. He was so tired of feeling like this. Tired of lying.
“We left…because of me. Because I’m...gay ...and always have been. They were afraid for me. And it’s all. My. Fault!”
Nico tried to pull away and found himself in a tighter embrace. Lulled. A hand stroked his hair and gentled him. He heard humming. Felt chaste kisses on his forehead. His temple. He drifted. Then thought no more.